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By Pete Vonder Haar | September 30, 2006

Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear (the 1980s, to be precise), when hunky men prowled the silver screen, fairly bursting with unrequited man-love for their equally macho action movie co-stars. Everywhere you looked, the eternal male-male dyad was on display, whether it consisted of two comrades in arms like Maverick and Goose, two uneasy rivals like Tango and Cash, or two miscellaneous closet cases like Kenner and Murata (“Showdown in Little Tokyo,” which was actually released in 1991 but fits my example too perfectly to be excluded). The fundamentals were always there: two guys, each linked together by a love that dare not speak its name, and each remarkably free of body hair.

In “The Guardian,” the latest film to sing the praises of the red-headed stepchild of the Armed Forces, ‘80s style homoeroticism is back. Granted, the relationship between Senior Chief Ben Randall (a suitably grizzled Kevin Costner) and hotheaded recruit Jake Fischer (Mr. Demi Moore and his Adam’s apple) is much more akin to the chicken-hawkery of Gunnery Sgt. Foley and Zack Mayo in “An Officer in a Gentleman,” though Costner isn’t quite as bald as Lou Gossett, Jr. Truly, this kind of affection can only blossom in an environment where there’s a substantial risk of dying in your buddy’s arms. These films never focus on two patent attorneys, or help desk techs, but always cops, pilots, or commandos.

Randall takes the position of lead instructor at rescue diver school after the loss of his helicopter crew during a mission in the Bering Sea. Fischer, a high school swimming phenom, has his own reasons for joining the Guard, which will naturally be revealed once tensions between the two have reached a breaking point. Randall sees something of himself in young Fischer (yow), while Fischer gets to learn the meaning of teamwork and self-sacrifice.

Blah, blah, blah. Inept sexual metaphors aside, the comparison between “The Guardian” and “An Officer and a Gentleman” is appropriate, and not in a good way. “Guardian” features every possible military movie chestnut, be it the boot camp montage, the awkward pick-up, and the bar fight (with local Navy personnel substituting for the usual townies). Granted, it’s all bookended between two fairly impressive sea rescue set pieces, but at 136 minutes, we could’ve used fewer stock lines of dialogue (“I’m not gonna let go!” and “You don’t know about me!” being two prime examples) and a lot more action. It’d be one thing if we hadn’t seen everything else before twenty years ago, but we have, and the hoary themes of coming-of-age and baptism by fire haven’t aged well, at least not under Andrew Davis’ mechanical direction.

There’s even a Bryan Adams song in the closing credits, for Robin Hood’s sake.

“The Guardian” is pretty to look at, and Kutcher and his similarly buff classmates (plus a few token females) spend an appreciable amount of time soaking wet, if that’s your thing. Minus a couple of neato rescues, however, you’ll spend the bulk of the movie with an intense feeling of déjà vu. More to the point, Davis and company need to be taken to task for giving us a movie that makes rescue divers, arguably among the most death-defying of professionals, boring.

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